Sir Harry Secombe biography

Sir Harry Secombe

Last updated: 18 November 2008

"I love singing arias, but I'm known as a comedian and, even if I did try to sing straight, people would still interpret what I did as being funny. It just wouldn't work."

According to Sir Geraint Evans, Harry Secombe could have been a fine comic operatic baritone, and he once offered him the part of Bardolph in Verdi's Falstaff. Had things been different, maybe we wouldn't just remember Harry Secombe's singing with If I Ruled The World.

I love singing arias, but I'm known as a comedian and, even if I did try to sing straight, people would still interpret what I did as being funny. It just wouldn't work.

Harry Secombe

Fellow Goon Spike Milligan, however, didn't agree. "I spent many years laughing at Harry Secombe's singing until somebody told me that it wasn't a joke," he once said. On another occasion, he sent Secombe a message: "I hope you go before me because I don't want you singing at my funeral".

Music played a big part in Harry Secombe's life, from his childhood in Swansea when he was a choirboy at St Stephen's, Danygraig, although he never had a singing lesson until 1952.

He got his first break during the war, taking part in many concert parties and revues, and this was the start of his amazing professional partnership with Spike Milligan.

His success led him to decide to follow a career in showbiz, and in the five years following his demobilisation in 1946 he did a lot of variety work, including appearing on the popular BBC Wales radio show Welsh Rarebit.

Singing took a back seat for the next few years, with the runaway success of The Goon Show from 1951, and it was only after its demise in 1960 that Harry Secombe really exercised his vocal talents again.

His biggest singing success was in the title role of the musical Pickwick in 1963 - a part he was born to perform and which contained what became his theme tune, If I Ruled The World. The show was acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic and led to other roles, such as Mr Bumble in the music Oliver!

Harry Secombe appeared regularly on television from the 60s onwards, and had his own very popular show for some years - always with at least one song. He also appeared in eight Royal Command Performances, and his recording of This Is My Song reached number two in the charts in 1967.

Later on, his love of music and deeply-held religious beliefs came together with the Sunday evening shows Highway and then Songs Of Praise in the 1980s and 90s, when he both performed hymns and presented.

He was made a CBE in 1963 and knighted in 1981, for his charity work and services to entertainment.

Always self-deprecating about his voice - perhaps due to years of ribbing by his fellow Goons - Harry Secombe maintained that he had a 'veranda' rather than a 'drawing room' voice, liable to break chandeliers if used indoors.

He sang a duet from La Boheme with Sir Geraint Evans at a party in Glyndebourne in 1959, and amazed performers and opera-goers with the quality of his singing. But he could never be persuaded to take up any of the comic opera roles that Sir Geraint believed he would do so well.

In the end, Spike Milligan got his wish and did die after Harry Secombe. But Harry had the last laugh: a tape of him singing Cwm Rhondda was played at Spike's funeral.

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